Training Dassett horses using pole work exercises

Posted on 12th March 2019 by Hayley Wright

With the horses and staff back in the swing after our winter break, it’s time to knuckle down to some proper training…

My role at Dassett Eventing is to help ride and train all the horses based here with us. Making sure our horses have the correct education is paramount.

An integral part of our training involves pole work. Whether it’s a new 4 year old learning the ropes or a seasoned campaigner needing variety in its training, pole work has many benefits. Working your horse over poles will improve his suppleness, flexibility, balance and rhythm.

The majority of our horses are sourced from Ireland. They all arrive with lots of raw and natural jump ability, but often lack experience and strength over poles.

We start introducing pole work early on in our horses’ training. It adds variety to their working routine, gets them to think where their feet are and improves co-ordination. This acts as early preparation for when they need to think for themselves on the cross country course.

As well as this, pole exercises are designed to develop suppleness, flexibility, balance and rhythm. Here are some that we use and you can try these out at home too;

Exercises to Improve Suppleness and Flexibility

Walk poles: 2-2.5 feet apart.
Because there is no moment of suspension in a horse’s walk, all effort to raise feet over the poles is done via the muscles. Walk poles are therefore an excellent way to build strength in the core and hind end. By encouraging the horse to bend and engage their hocks, the poles can also help make the pelvis more mobile. Raising the walk poles slightly will encourage further flexion in the hocks and promote more suppleness over the back.

Exercises to Improve Balance

Trot poles: 4- 4.5 feet apart.
Trot poles can encourage your horse to take more weight behind the saddle and begin balancing themselves using their hindquarters. This helps lighten the forehand and reduce their reliance on their head and neck for balance. Raised trot poles are great for teaching your horse to keep a regular tempo and introduce more suspension. By raising the trot poles your horse will have to increase his self-carriage in order to clear the poles and adjust his feet accordingly.

Exercises to Improve Rhythm

Canter poles: 3 paces apart.
We often use canter poles to help develop a rhythm for jumping. Poles help us to focus on this without having to actually jump. A useful exercise we use at Dassett Eventing is having 4 canter poles set out like clock face (12, 3, 6, 9 o’ clock). This acts as a good basic check to establish your horse’s rhythm, highlighting if you are speeding up or slowing down. Next, you can aim to vary the stride numbers and patterns between the poles whilst still maintaining a solid rhythm. It’s harder than you think!

Here at Dassett Eventing we aim to include pole work in our horses exercise programme at least once a week. Altering each exercise depending on the experience and strength of each individual horse.

Not only do we use pole work to improve our horses’ way of going. We also use it for us as riders. Helping with our own position, straightness, balance and independence of seat.

I hope this has given you an insight into some of the work we include in our horses’ routines to produce strong and successful event horses!

Hayley Wright
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